The US gave the go-ahead yesterday for milk and meat from cloned animals to be sold to consumers in a move likely to be seized upon by manufacturers who want to sell cloned meat in Britain and the European Union.
The Food and Drug Agency, a government department in charge of food safety, issued a draft ruling allowing the sale of cloned cattle, pigs and goats to go on sale with no obligation to state the origin of the meat on labels. The ruling, which decided that meat from cloned animals and their offspring was "as safe to eat" as that from naturally-raised animals, came after a five-year review.
Sheep were not included in the list as the agency did not have the evidence to prove that it was currently safe to eat, an official said.
The decision was heavily criticised by American consumer groups in the US, including the Consumer Federation of America, which said the FDA had not investigated the safety, ethical and religious issues surrounding biotechnology - the science behind cloning - to a sufficient extent.
The decision will help manufacturers lobbying to distribute cloned meat in the UK. Despite the ruling, it was reported that importers of American products containing cloned animal produce would still have to gain the approval of both the UK government's Food Standards Agency and the European Union.
But the agency said yesterday that it had not yet received any applications from any of the companies wishing to distribute cloned meat in the UK.
Although there are currently several hundred cloned cattle in America, the cost and complexity of cloning - planting an egg from a donor animal into the uterus of another animal - means it is likely to be years before the manufacture of cloned meat products becomes widespread.
The agency will issue its final decision next year following a public consultation on labelling, but said that it did not have the authority to force manufacturers to make clear that the product was cloned if the food was indistinguishable from naturally-reared produce.
Some companies are already planning ways in which to optimise their opposition to using modified foods. A spokesman for Ben & Jerry's said it planned to make clear that its products would not include produce from cloned animals.
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